There is no proposal to ban TikTok, G. Kishan Reddy, the Minister of State for Home Affairs, said in Parliament yesterday. When asked by BJP’s Subhas Sarkar if TikTok was a counter intelligence threat to India and whether the US had shared intelligence on the negative effects of TikTok, Reddy said that no such inputs had come to the notice of the government. It is worth mentioning that the Indian government, in the first six months of 2019, led requests for user information and content takedowns on TikTok.
TikTok’s checkered history in India and the US
Reddy’s response that the government has received no inputs on TikTok being a potential counter intelligence threat is surprising given that lawmakers in India, across political parties, have raised questions about the closeness of TikTok with the Chinese government. The Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has been a very vocal critic of the Chinese short video app, and has called it a threat to India’s national security.
TikTok was also banned in India for 20 days in April last year, for allegedly spreading pornography, potentially exposing children to sexual predators, and adversely impacting the mental health of its users. The Election Commission of India had asked to meet TikTok officials, before the 2019 general elections, to talk about taking down content which violated its guidelines.
US politicians have been sharply critical of the company over concerns on how it handles user data, as well as for its censorship of political content deemed sensitive by Chinese government, such as the Hong Kong protests, the Tiananmen Square protests, and most recently for suspending the account of a American woman who posted a video of her talking about treatment of Uighurs in China while giving a tutorial on eye-lash curling.
In December 2019, an American college student had accused TikTok of transferring private user data to servers in China, despite TikTok owner Bytedance’s assurance that it does not store personal data there. A month before that, the US had launched a national security review of ByteDance over its $1 billion acquisition of short video app musical.ly. In part, The review had stemmed from the US’ fears that the Chinese government might have access to TikTok’s data and user profiles.